13 March 2006

Patton, Patton, Bonds, Sopranos Premiere...

My Mom decided that, for my brother's birthday, she would get him tickets to see a stand up comedian somewhere with a few of his friends. Eventually I was tasked with finding a touring comedian he'd like that we could access easily. After searching around a bit, I figured Patton Oswalt at Caroline's on March 10th was as good as anything else.

So Erin (who counts Patton as her favorite stand up), myself, Mike, Casey and Mackey (Mike's butt buddies) all gathered in front of Caroline's for the 8 PM show last week. To kill time between checking in on our reservation and actually going into the show, we trucked over to Virgin in Times Square and poked around. At one point some Tony Soprano-wannabe came barrelling down 46th St. through a red light, and after crossing over Broadway and 7th Ave, had to pull up for pedestrians still slipping by despite the don't walk sign. He started screaming, dumping F bombs left and right, performing a note-perfect New York/ Italian stereotype that was part Joe Pesci and part Ratso Rizzo. Really funny. We all started yelling at him, seeing if we could get him out of the car, but he ignored us. Pussy.

After that, on the way back to Carolines, some dude started regaling us "hey man- like stand up comedy?" For you non-NYCers, it's these guys that brutally annoy you by trying to offer you free (sort of) tickets to various stand up comedy houses. Very annoying and especially irrelevant for us that night. They were like roadside spam. Out of nowhere Casey asked one of them (for reasons known only to him) if he had "any Purp Haze?" Apparently the guy- "unbeknownst" to Casey- said he would "crack [him] in the jaw" as a response. Casey claimed, when Mike told him, he "wished he'd heard" because he would have "beat his ass."

Later on, Casey and Mackey were goofing around, and I told Mackey he should tell Casey that he'd crack him in the jaw. Mike said, "yea, but then Casey would pretend not to hear him."

The show itself was in-fucking-credible. Patton was great on Comedians of Comedy, I've loved him in everything I've seen him in, but live- he was a force of nature. "Your twat smells like a baby's coffin." That's poetry.

Opening for Patton was the MC, Dan Ahdoot and Leo Allen. Ahdoot was a Last Comic Standing finalist who did ethnic stuff and some mildly funny banter with a cluster of teenagers in the front row (as well as doing his damnedest to get some trim after the show). Not great, but a likeable guy and kept things moving. Leo Allen was a guy with better material but a delivery that wasn't really hitting that night. He also seemed to get pretty flustered by the hecklers (the lowest form of human) that were just sort of talking and ignoring him. Not his fault (totally), but he got thrown off his rhythm or something. Still- some good bits. A good warmer-upper.

When Patton was on, there was a pocket of drunkies from Texas, which made me wonder how many people were there for a fun night out to see John Q Comedy ply his trade, and how many people were there because they specifically love Patton Oswalt. I know for a fact the gentleman sitting in front of me wanted to be anywhere else the entire night, especially during the Bush bits, which elicited head-shaking from the guy.

That being said, and aside from some rather humorous heckler-baiting (he more or less put on a clinic on how to deal with a heckler), Patton flat-out killed. Everyone was dying- especially us. Definitely painful laughter towards the end. That's always good. He also mentioned a recently 86'd Billy Zabka box set that was going to be released with Zabka and himself doing commentary. His rattling off a number of Karate Kid lines of dialogue with an audience member was strangely hilarious.

After the show, Patton hung out a bit near the stage signing some autographs and talking. Mike, Erin and I went over to say hi, and I have to say- easily the nicest famous person I've ever met. Really, really appreciative and warm. Seems like a great guy. I shook his hand and told him about this little dog and pony show, Erin got an autograph (and fell completely in love), and Mike chatted Patton up about his impending move out to Los Angeles and getting started as a stand-up, which Patton was more than helpful on tips with. That was really, really cool.

Also, I watched Patton this weekend, in an unrelated decision. George C Scott was an animal. Not as much of an animal, however, as Klaus Kinski. Finished Aguirre: The Wrath of God and My Best Fiend: Klaus Kinski. Gotta love Klaus.

For a long time I wasn't sure if I thought Barry Bonds took steroids- it seemed like he may, but I didn't believe there was concrete proof on much of what is reported on steroids, including it's cumulative effect on a player and their performance, and I was skeptical about a lot of things. Yes, Barry Bonds looked like a different person in 2002 than he did in 1992. Yes he went from being a Hall of Fame level all around great player to being a rock-legged offensive genius posting numbers never, ever seen in the history of baseball.

But I wasn't willing to say, "yes, he did it" unless I was sure he'd done it. His Grand Jury Testimony that he'd taken some PEDs, but didn't know what they were, was hard to believe. That said, when I eventually read the recent exerpt from the upcoming book on Bonds' steroid abuse, Game of Shadows, it stopped existing in the abstract for me. So, I thought- he did it. There's not much getting around it anymore. The article was written with extensive sourcing and exhaustive documentation. There was what appeared to be due diligence on everything written, time taken to insure that nothing could be exposed to scrutiny. This is the real deal.

So at the end of it all, I have no idea what to make of it. I know he did it, but I also know countless other players did it. I know handfuls of MLB players had exercised what appeared to be a league-wide unwritten sanction of the activity. I know they did it knowing that their GMs, managers, player reps, union and league offices would all pretend like they didn't see it. I know that I have no idea the tangible and relative effects of steroids on the game, how much it changed because of baseball, how much it truly effects performance, how much that shift happened in concert with smaller ballparks and improved medical treatment and conditioning practices. I don't know any of this- and I think, honestly, this is why the steroids scandal is so bad. There isn't an easy response. You can't simply finger the guys that did it, acknowledge that everything they did was phoney, and move on, comfortable that the problem was corrected.

Instead, it's impossible to tell who did it from who didn't. It's also impossible to tell a juicer from a clean player based on performances, and though there are some telltale signs, they're way far away from being definitive, and are often avenues for the accusing of clean players. Nothing about this is easy, and that includes stopping it- it won't be stopped, not soon at least. The MLBPA is slow to enact tight testing and restrictions, and the science remains a step ahead of the testing. There's no easy fix. This is a fog that will hang over baseball for years.

I don't know what to think about it. I object, personally, to the idea of cheating- but I don't object to the idea of, to use Gaylord Perry as an example, gaining a competitive edge by scuffing. I wouldn't promote it, but I wouldn't condemn a guy for trying it in moderation. This realization makes me question how much I really think the act of juicing effects the sport. I don't know that the effect is different than the effect of subtraction of African American players before Jackie Robinson's arrival, or the pitcher's era of the mid-to-late 1960's, which lead to a drastic rule change (lowering the mounds). In fact, I wonder if hitting half your games in Coors Field isn't directly analogous (or even having a great effect) to a player using PEDs.

What I do know is that the near witch-hunt mentality that follows Barry Bonds isn't because of, solely, steroids. It's because
a) He's a paranoid, race-baiting asshole
b) He's about to break a number of highly regarded records.

People don't like Barry Bonds, most especially because of his frank views on race in sports and America. People also don't like someone like that making a headlong rush at records made and broken when they were younger. For a lot of people, the thought of Barry Bonds passing Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth in anything is sickening- and I've always felt it had nearly nothing to do with PEDs.

This is why, I think, I was always reticent to join the mouth-frothing over Bonds. Why? I don't care if a ballplayer is an asshole- watching Barry Bonds hit and play baseball has always been an incredible pleasure, and that's moreso in recent years. Of course that pleasure's been diluted recently for obvious reasons, but the fact remains- I don't have a personal stake in his going down. To me, the steroid scandal isn't a delightful opportunity for Barry Bonds to meet an ignominious end- it's a sad blight on something I happen to love. Big difference.

I also never cared if a giant asshole held certain records- and, in fact, don't care if a steroid user is allowed to take said records. It doesn't faze me simply because while I enjoy reading on and using different numerical records for understanding the context of the game, I don't equate it for the love I have of what happens on the field, and the actual play of the game. They're not the same thing. If a record is compromised, in theory, by an instance like this, it's not going to bother me especially. I also realize that every single statistical record in baseball's long history is completely meaningless devoid of some level of context, and this would, unfortunately (in the case of PEDs) be no exception. People grasping that concept would make for a more reasoned debate on the subject.

It's too bad this happened, and it's too bad to me that Barry Bonds has been made to stand as the shooting target for the entire saga. It's also too bad that a brilliant, Hall of Fame bound player, one that did everything remarkably well- someone who, with Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey were the players of their decade- had to allow jealousy and envy bring them to a place where they had to destroy that legacy. It's sad to me that Barry Bonds needed specific attention so bad that he couldn't realize how truly great a player he was, and how somehow he needed more.

Here's the excerpt from Sport Illustrated, a really fascinating read.

So, after hanging out with some people for Bill's birthday over at Dinosaur BBQ on 131st and 12th Ave, I rushed home perilously close to missing the season premiere of The Sopranos. I, thank God (even though I was taping it), JUST made it in time. So thank goodness for that.

I've read a lot of middling reviews on the various corners of the internet regarding the episode, but I happened to love it. From the William Burroughs opening, to the Meadow lingerie dance (nice), to the Paulie "Ohhhhhh!", to the skinny Vito grabbing, of all things, a lone hot dog sans bun off the buffet line. Naturally, there was a lot to set up- The Sopranos doesn't pick up wherever the preceding season leaves of chronologically- it picks up after the time away has passed. So, since it's been almost two years since Season Five, it's been almost two years passed in the interim. I've always loved that.

So yea, a lot of exposition was required as a result. Not a huge deal. It was interesting to see Carmela thinking about Adrianna- I get the impression she doesn't really totally buy the "ran off with another guy" theory, but it's hard to question that and the Porsches that come with it. The Gene Pontecorvo story was great, to me, because it was so sad- and so perfectly detailing what the show is so adamant about- no one can get out. The only way out, as Pontecorvo dangled (gruesome), is through death, and that's what it felt like he was doing- letting himself, and his family out. Of course, finding out he was the FBI's new DH for inside info (after Ray croaked in the car with Agt. Sanseverino) probably didn't help either. That's always been an interesting point the show drives home- the good guys aren't so appealing, and the bad guys aren't always so repellent.

AJ had long hair. That's crazy.

Obviously, however, there was Tony's shooting which, I gotta admit, I personally didn't really see coming. I gave up reading tea leaves on Sopranos episodes a long time ago- this show is much more naturalistic than, say, LOST- things happen, they don't resolve themselves specifically, and don't crop back up maybe for months. Trying to devine what's going to happen by an eyebrow cock from Tony is probably not the most enjoyable way to experience the show- for me at least. So while I did get the impression that the episode was building to something, and that a lot was being made of Tony's weight/ coronary health- seeing Uncle Junior race down the stairs and shoot him in th gut was unexpected, to me. What made the scene- and this show- great was what came after. Tony grasping for the first telephone and inadvertantly ripping it out of the wall was brilliant.

Now, as our friend Mr. White told us not long ago, "along with the kneecap, the most painful place to get shot is the stomach- but it takes a long time to kill ya." So Tony's not dead- plus, in those preview "trailers" we've seen of the season, there are shots that didn't appear in the premier. I guess they could work around that by going back and covering ground leading up to that, but either way- Gandolfini's in the rest of the season. That's probably obvious, but I think it's worth mentioning.

And then, the no scenes from next week, which was a pig's trick. No fun.

People will miss this show when it's gone- until then, it'll be easier for people to point out how it didn't meet their insane expectations.

Last thing- the author of The Last Nine Innings, Charles C. Euchner, was nice enough to send me a copy of his new book to review, which I've just received in the mail. So, I'll be ripping through that one soon, and I'll post a review right after. Looking forward to it...

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